The Irish Eye: December
December was a great month within Irish boxing circles. Two stacked cards being run on the opening weekend of the month kept us entertained at home, whilst there was also a pleasing number of 'on-the-road' wins across the world - including a Katie Taylor title defence, which is where we will start...
Bray lightweight Katie Taylor defended her WBA world title just six weeks after capturing it, outpointing American Jessica McCaskill at the famous York Hall, London, on 13 December.
The 2012 Olympic champion didn't have it all her own though and was made to work throughout her maiden title defence. The powerful McCaskill landed some big shots on the 31-year-old Wicklow warrior, who to her credit took everything the American had to offer. It would be the sheer class and skill that oozes out of Taylor's work that gave her the unanimous decision on the scorecards by 97-92 (twice) and 98-91.
"It was a very very tough fight, probably the toughest fight of my career, the five-time world amateur champion said post-fight. I expected that anyway. I knew coming into this fight that Jessica was a tough tough opponent, I had to be at my very best, its an absolute privilege to be boxing here in York Hall in front of so many fans so thank you so much for the support. I thought I boxed very well on the outside, I knew she was very very tough and rough, I was prepared for that, I thought I boxed very well here tonight.
Taylor was asked if a return to her home country was next for the national hero, to which she replied: "Yeah, that's always been on the radar, hopefully this sets me up nicely for a great 2018, I'd love to have a homecoming fight in Dublin, and I'd love to unify the division, I just want to be in the biggest fights possible."
"This is what I was born to do, I was created to box, every time I step in here I know this is what I was created to do, I love every second of this and don't take it for granted at all, I'm living the life of my dreams and I'm so thankful for that."
Elsewhere, Dublin's 'Big Sexy' Sean Turner sent out a massive message to the European heavyweight division with an eighth-round knock-out of Switzerland's Arnold 'The Cobra' Gjergjaj at the Grand Casino, Basel.
The MTK fighter suffered a first career loss in April this year, which had 'Big Sexy' considering cutting down to cruiserweight, but whilst still fighting above the 200lbs limit, Turner faced his toughest test to date, at least on paper.
Gjerghaj only had one blemish on his 31-fight record, a second round defeat to former WBA King David Haye in May 2016, and nearly fell to the same feat in Basel as Turner forced the fight from the off, marching Gjergjaj down landing big shots which forced the heavy-hitting home fighter to the canvas in the second stanza.
Gjergjaj bravely rose to his feet and fought on, but the fight was rarely competitive as Big Sexy continued to pour forward. Relentless pressure coupled with powerful shots to the body and head finally took their toll on The Cobra in the eighth and final round as Turner landed a succession of big shots that sent the giant crashing to the canvas and unable to slither his way to the final bell. Turner improved his record to 12(8)-1 and also entered the European rankings, as well as jumping to number 48 in Boxrec's world rankings.
Big Sexy took to social media post-fight and said: "Well where do I start, over the moon is an understatement, I trained my ass off for this fight, kept quiet and proved all the doubters wrong, showed I belong at the top level. Huge thanks to Peter Taylor for getting me into super shape, also to my number one fan Tony Turner, it's only the start of a long road ahead."
On 16 December at the Place Bell, Laval, Canada, Gary 'Spike' O'Sullivan took a massive step towards a world title shot with a seventh-round knockout of highly-ranked American Antoine Douglas.
Heading into the bout, Golden Boy's newly signed Douglas was the favourite with the bookmakers, but it was the pressure and power punching of O'Sullivan that would be the telling factor between the young American and the Cork veteran.
Nine out of ten of Spike's last fights have come in North America, and the Irishman is now carving out quite a reputation Stateside with eight of his nine bouts ending in stoppage wins. The fan-friendly fighter is now ranked with three of the four major governing bodies and will be looking for a return next year for a world title shot.
Mick Conlan returned to the scene of his historic St Patrick's Day debut on 9 December, but this time the west-Belfast switch-hitter would have to settle for a chief-support against Argentinian Luis Fernando Molina, as two of amateur boxing's greatest fighters went head-to-head in the basement at Madison Square Garden.
Whilst many onlookers were left dissatisfied with the conclusion of 'Loma v Rigo' in the main event, the same couldn't be said for Conlan's six-round demolition of Molina, demonstrating his unique skillset which will hopefully propel him towards world title glory in the coming years.
The 26-year-old featherweight started brightly - boxing orthodox - working behind a sharp jab before switching to southpaw for the final 20 seconds of a dominant opener.
From the second round on, the MTK Global fighter boxed predominately in southpaw, and very comfortably. At the end of the third, Conlan was comfortably ahead on the judges scorecard and strutted back to his corner with a swagger as the music belted out from the speakers between rounds.
Heading into the fourth round for the first time in his professional career, Conlan was boxing with a calmness and composure that had been lacking in his first couple of appearances in the paid ranks. Placing his sharp power punches around the high-guard of Molina, Conlan was in fine form, punishing the mid-section with a thumping left-hand to the body anytime Molina would lift his guard to high to protect his head, who was no match for Belfast's Mick Conlan who took the decision 60-54 on all three judges scorecards, to improve his record to 5(4)-0
No doubt, an eagerness to impress having just signed with the top promotional outfit in the world brought an added pressure in his opening couple of bouts that sometimes left Conlan loading up or smothering his work. However it's also important to remember he was up against very negative opponents, but since Conlan has settled into his new role as Top Rank's 'next big star', his patience and composure have shone through, and reflecting in his performances.
"I felt comfortable in there," the 2015 world amateur champion said post-fight. "I thought I used my boxing skill very well, he had a tough head, I kind of hurt my knuckle in my left-hand in the third round, but listen, I'm happy to get the rounds because my next fight is back here in The Garden, March 17th, I want to do eight rounds, I want to move up, I feel I'm ready for it, it was a good solid performance, the guy had seven wins, three losses, one stoppage, and has never been stopped [himself] he has a tough head, but I'm happy."
"I think I want to push on in 2018, maybe towards the end of the year push towards titles and on towards 2019, but I'm looking forward to coming back here with a packed-out Irish dominant crowd, in this beautiful arena, this is my new home, I cant wait to do it, look at the tricolours here already and its not even my card."
The Falls Road man had been confidence personified through fight week in the big apple, even talking up his chances of challenging the winner of the main-event in the not-so-distant future.
"I'm fighting on a bill with two of the greatest amateurs to ever live and potentially two hall of fame pros, as well, so it is exciting. But I always have the end game in mind, as well, which is that one of them could be a future opponent."
Portlaois super-bantamweight T.J Doheny secured himself a shot at the IBF world champion Ryosuke Iwasa in 2018, with a twelve-round split-decision victory over Pipat Chaiporn of Bangkok - in Bangkok.
'The Power' has been residing in Bondi, Australia, throughout his professional career, and now looks set to challenge for the belt Belfast's Carl Frampton held and defended for the last time in his unification bout with Scott Quigg in 2016.
Danger at the Devenish 2
The month kicked off at the Devenish Complex, Belfast, with Ginley Promotions running a second successive bumper bill filled with Irish talent titled ‘Danger at the Devenish 2’ on 1 December.
Derry super-bantamweight Tyrone McCullagh (8(4)-0) had been calling for a step-up in opponent for quite some time, and the MTK fighter was granted his wish as he took on undefeated Tom Tran (6(1)-0) in the main-event of the bill, producing a career-best performance to stop the German in the fifth, after having him down late in the round previous.
Speaking to irish-boxing.com post-fight ‘White Chocolate’ said: “I’m delighted with the win. I was happy enough with my performance. It took me a round or two to get going, but I’d be like that in sparring sometimes too when it takes me a round or two to get warmed up, but once I found my range it was enjoyable.
“As this was my first real step up, I wanted to stick to my boxing skills but, when I loosened up and I started to box, I knew I was hurting him so I started to let more shots go. I wasn’t out to stop him and I would’ve liked to get a few more rounds under my belt, but you can’t complain with the stoppage either.”
The 27 year-old southpaw's career is finally growing some legs with four fights in the last nine months since signing a managerial contract with MTK Global. Looking forward to 2018, the Foylesider commented: “I’m not in it to win local titles. I want to win British and European titles and then take it from there. With a performance like that, I definitely think I can, but I’ll need another step up in my next fight and we’ll gauge it from there again. I want Joe Ham next.”
In the chief-support bout, Belfast welterweight Paddy Gallagher outpointed Nicaraguan Miguel Aguilar (11(5)-39(8)-1) to improve his record to 13(8)-2.
Elsewhere on the undercard, Dublin light-welterweight Phil Sutcliffe Jr moved to 14(9)-2(1) with a three-round demolition of undefeated Kazakh Andreas Maier who dropped to 7(5)-1,
Coalisland middleweight Conrad Cummings made his return to the ring with a six-round points victory over former opponent Norbert Szekeres 18(9)-62(17)-3. The pair fought each other three years ago in Denmark with the same end result. Cummings now 12(5)-1-1 will be hoping for a busy 2018 after following Frampton to Manchester to be coached by Jamie Moore and managed by MTK.
Dublin light-heavyweight Steve Collins Jr returned and moved to 12(4)-1-1 with a six-round points victory over Hungary's Istvan Orsos who dropped to 16(5)-43(14)-2 for his night's work.
Belfast super-middleweight Padraig McCrory finally made his second appearance in the pro ranks after a couple of frustrating late cancellations, and took his annoyance out on Nicaraguan Michael Mora, stopping the journeyman in the second round to improve to 2(1)-0.
Undefeated Belfast middleweight Alfredo Meli moved to 14(3)-0-1 with a six-round points victory over Cork-South African Jade Karam, who dropped to 9(4)-5(2)-2.
Dublin cruiserweight Ian Tims suffered a surprise loss at the hands of tough Romanian Gheorge Danut who improved to 11(2)-26(4)-7 whilst 'Timsey' has now seen his record drop to 13(4)-5(3) after two successive losses.
And finally, Coalisland super-middleweight Taylor McGoldrick made his professional debut after ditching the vest and signing with MTK Global. The younger cousin of Conrad Cummings impressed in a four-round points victory over Michal Ciach of Poland.
Celtic Clash 4
On 2 December, Boxing Ireland Promotions and Tony Davitt once again teamed up to promote the latest instalment of the 'Celtic Clash' series at the National Stadium, Dublin.
'Celtic Clash 4' was headlined by popular Athy fighter Eric Donovan. The unbeaten BUI Celtic Featherweight champion was due to defend his belt on the bill, but his opponent - Juan Luis Gonzalez - came in 1lb over the limit. Nonetheless, the battle of the southpaws saw 'Lilywhite Lightning' display a skillful performance to dominate and outpoint the tough Spaniard, and extending his unbeaten record to 6(3)-0.
Speaking to the ever-present irish-boxing.com post fight, the five-time senior champion noted: “I was looking at him fighting Marc Vidal because that is my target because he is the European champion. Vidal stopped him in nine rounds, but over the eight rounds he had before he stopped him in the ninth and my eight rounds – my eight rounds were classier.
“I think I was totally dominant. I gave him nothing. I’d say the only time he had a little bit of success is when I was trying to take him out. He was swinging for the hedges then in desperation and he might have hit me a few body shots then and around the head.
“Nothing he planned worked out for him and that’s down to my own intelligence in the ring and my footwork. Knowing when to step it up and knowing when to go for a walk, it’s all part and parcel of the game.”
The stand-out amateur was being cornered by former WBO middleweight champion - and close friend - Andy Lee for the first time, and spoke highly of their partnership. “I am only working with Andy five or six weeks and I can see a massive difference. I am looking forward to developing that. Obviously I have to respect Andy and his career and his choices, but from a selfish point of view I’d love for that relationship to prosper and continue.”
Donovan will next return to the ring on 17 February at the WIT Arena, Waterford as Neil Power promotes the inaugural 'Ring Kings' event.
In the chief-support bout their was a highly-anticipated local derby between undefeated Crank Whitehouse and the ultra-tough Jay Byrne for the BUI Celtic welterweight title.
Going into the bout, the bookmakers had Whitehouse as the slight favourite, but 'The Negotiator' had been learning his trade on the road, testing top prospects in Felix Cash, Anthony Fowler and Josh Kelly, at higher weights, and felt he was in a perfect position to cause a minor upset down at his natural weight of 147lbs.
After a close opening couple of rounds, with the flashier stuff coming from Whitehouse and the telling power-shots coming from Byrne, it was the pressure and power of Byrne that began to take its toll on Whitehouse. At the beginning of the fourth, a huge right-hand from Byrne landed flush on the chin of Whitehouse, stunning the undefeated 22-year-old. Another soon followed as Byrne went for the kill, loading up with the right hand.
It had looked like Crank might survive the round, but with less than twenty-seconds left, Whitehouse went to throw a left-hook but was caught by Byrne with a powerful straight right hand that sent him to the canvas. Whitehouse unsteadily rose to his feet and the bout was waved off at 2.55 seconds of round four.
After a career best win, Byrne improves his record to 6(2)-3(1), whilst Whitehouse falls to 7(2)-1(1) after his first career defeat.
Also on the stacked undercard, there was a late contender for 'Fight of the Year' which also threw up a 'Round of the Year' contender.
Cork's Colin O'Donovan and Dublin's Stephen McAfee battled to a bloody six-round draw, with the sixth and final round being the most entertaining of them all, leaving both promoters and fighters keen for a rematch in the New Year, with hopefully a BUI trinket on the line.
Elsewhere on the undercard, Lucan welterweight John Joyce moved to 3(2)-0 with a two-round demolition of Imre Simon, who tasted the canvas five times on route to seeing his record slip to 8(1)-21(15).
Limerick had a new pro to shout about in the shape of southpaw light-middleweight Graham McCormack O’Shea, the Munster elite champion debuted with a four-round points victory over Hungarian Richard Baba (1(1)-2(1)).
Dublin light-welterweight Niall O'Connor scored the first stoppage victory of his career to move to 2(1)-0, as he defeated Manuel Prieto (0-2(2)) in the third-round after the Spaniards corner threw in the towel.
Dublin light-middleweight Craig O'Brien stretched his unbeaten record to 7-0 with a routine six-round points victory over Daniel Przewieslik of Poland (now 2(2)-5(2)-1).
Crumlin lightweight Martin Quinn was made to work for his second professional victory as he outpointed Spaniard Iago Barros 39-37 on referee Emile Teidt scorecard to improve to 2(1)-0. Barros came into the fight full of confidence, coming in off away stoppage win week before over undefeated Julien Calvete in Geneva, and felt he should have been given the nod in Dublin, and has called for the rematch, which promoter Leonard Gunning is considering.
Dublin light-middleweight Bernard Roe upped his professional record to 6(1)-0 with a six-round points victory over the ultra-durable William Warburton, who had his 23rd and final fight of the year, finishing with a record of 24(4)-127(2)-9.
Jobstown bantamweight Dylan McDonagh scored the first stoppage victory of his professional career, impressively dispatching Hungarian Robert Kanalas in under two-minutes to improve to 2(1)-0. Kanalas had previously been stopped in two rounds by Ryan Burnett for the vacant WBO European belt back in October 2015, and drops to 11(8)-12(10) after his most recent loss.
Bray welterweight James Cahill moved to 2-0 with a four-round points victory over Mwenya Chisanga of Zambia, who dropped to 1-3(2).
And finally, Castlerea middleweight Darren Cruise returned to the ring for the first time since his controversial Irish title loss to Luke Keeler, and took just two-rounds to dispatch of Hungarian journeyman Janos Varga, to improve his record to 8(2)-6(0).
The 'Celtic Clash' series keep getting better with each production, and Boxing Ireland Promotions will be looking to expand into the North of Ireland in 2018, with dates for 'Celtic Clash 5' and '6' due to be released in the coming weeks.
Irish around the world
Dublin light-welterweight 'Super' Darragh Foley made it four wins out of four for 2017 with a tough eight-round points victory over Ernie Sanchez of the Philippines in Sydney, Australia on 8 December.
Irish youngster Aaron McKenna made his professional debut on 9 December, at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, at just eighteen years of age.
The Monaghan light-welterweight was snapped up by Golden Boy promotions earlier in the year, and was initially due to make his debut on the Cotto sv Ali card two weeks prior, but unfortunately that was cancelled last minute, but McKenna finally got his chance to shine on the Ogawa vs Farmer undercard, outpointing unbeaten Travis Conley over four-rounds to improve his new professional record to 1-0.
Monaghan light-welterweight Larry Fryers, who resides in New York, came through his toughest test to date when he outpointed undefeated Puerto Rican Charles Natal over six-rounds at the BB King Blues Club & Grill, New York on 14 December to improve his unbeaten record to 6(2)-0, whilst 'Mr Hollywood' Natal dropped to 9(3)-1(0)-2.
Belfast super-featherweight Ciaran McVarnock moved to 8(3)-0-1 at the Oldham Leisure Centre, Oldham, on 16 December, with a second-round stoppage of Croatia's Anto Nakic, who dropped to 1-15(7) for his night work.
Belfast's Anthony Cacace returned to the ring on 21 December at the Holiday Inn, Birmingham, for the first time since his unsuccessful British and Commonwealth title challenge against Martin J. Ward, and picked up a wide six-round points victory over Nicaraguan Reynalso Mora, to improve his record to 16(7)-1.
The Irish Eye - End of Year Awards
2017 was a hugely successful year for Irish boxing, 'The Irish Eye' covered 236 fights involving Irish fighters, and just like last year, we've decided to dish out some awards.
Fighter of the Year:
The Belfast bantamweight set out to conquer to world in 2017, and did exactly just that. On 25 February, Burnett outboxed tough Mexican southpaw Joseafat Reyes over eight rounds at the Ice Arena, Hull, and spoke post-fight of his world title ambitions, saying: "It's within touching distance, I'm just hoping that it comes off, I think that in terms of ability goes I'm nearly there, I'm very very close, its something [that's coming] in the near future."
In his very next fight, Burnett would headline in his home-city as he successfully deposed IBF champion Lee Haskins for the Bristolian's world title in front of 5,000 noisy Belfast fans. Burnett's supreme head and foot movement caused nightmares for Haskins throughout the fight, leaving him chasing shadows and eating counters for most parts of each round as well as being floored twice.
Then, on 21 October at the SSE Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Burnett unified after successfully negotiating his way through twelve tough rounds with former stablemate and WBA super champion, Zhanat Zhakiyanov, thus becoming the first Irishman to unify world titles on home soil.
Fight of the Year:
Jono Carroll vs Johnny Quigley
Undefeated MTK stablemates Carroll and Quigley went to war over twelve rounds for the IBF East/West European super-featherweight title, with Dublin's Carroll getting the nod on the judges' scorecards.
The fight burst into action in the second when Carroll twice had Quigley on the canvas after constant pressure, but the Scouser responded well in the third and fourth to even up the bout.
Dublin's Carroll regained the momentum in a tough and tight fifth round, and kept the pressure on 'Johnny Boy' throughout the sixth, wearing him down with constant pressing.
Quigley looked to be tiring through rounds seven and eight, but seemed to catch a second wind in the ninth and he again started to outbox Carroll, who by this stage was feeling the full effects on the bruising encounter, and was tiring himself.
Into the tenth and Carroll started the round the better, staggering Quigley on a couple of occasions, but the Everton Red Triangle fighter bravely fought back towards the end of the round.
The eleventh stanza was a strong contender for round of the year. Both fighters were running on empty. Neither had ever entered the championship rounds before in their professional careers, but both managed to give their all for three minutes solid without a backward step.
The Waterfront Hall rose to their feet in appreciation at the end of the round and 'King Kong' Carroll returned to his corner thumping his chest.
It was the Liverpudlian, Quigley, who had the better of the exchanges in the final round of this epic back-and-forth battle, but it was Carroll who got the nod on two of the judges' scorecards to get the split-decision victory (115-111 - twice - and 114-113).
Round of the Year:
Tennyson vs Geraghty - Round 2.
Just edging out Carroll vs Quigley round 11, Tennyson vs Geraghty round two was an Irish classic. With the classic boxer vs puncher style, a Belfast vs Dublin derby, and an Irish title up for grabs, this bout had a lot to live up to, and possibly exceeded all expectations.
In the opening round, southpaw Geraghty dominated proceedings, boxing beautifully, even show-boating a little and frustrating Tennyson, who was looking to cut the ring off and land some big shots on his slippery foe, but to little or no avail.
But the fight truly burst into action in the second.
Both fighters came out of their corners looking fired-up, Geraghty possibly had the better of the opening exchange of the round, but one minute in Tennyson finally found his gap to land a powerful straight right-hand that sent Geraghty crashing to the canvas. Geraghty - to-his-credit - took it tremendously well, and rose straight to his feet and marched towards 'The Assassin' staring at him, before returning to the neutral corner to receive his standing count.
When the action got back underway, Geraghty's boxing went out the window for the next minute as he looked for the equaliser. The Dubliner opted to stay in the pocket with Tennyson, fighting the punchers fight, and landed some nice shots but it was Tennyson's power shots that were doing the most damage as he switched his attacks from body to head.
As Geraghty pivoted out of the pocket manoeuvred his way out of range and got back to his boxing, Tennyson went to throw a left uppercut but was caught himself with a left-uppercut to the body, which forced a grimace on the face of Tennyson, which didn't go unnoticed by Geraghty who rushed in to trying to land more shots on his hurting opponent, but Tennyson recovered well, and started forcing Geraghty onto the ropes to get some shots off of his own, but two left-hooks from Geraghty with his back to the ropes landed flush on the chin of the advancing Tennyson, and forced the Belfast man to re-think his next attack, giving the Dubliner a moments respite.
As the stanza came to an end, with both fighters clearly tiring after an action-packed three-minutes, it was Geraghty's boxing that had the final say as he twice pivoted and landed the left-hook on Tennyson just before the bell, and both fighters touched gloves in acknowledgement of a tough round.
Prospect of the Year:
Michael Conlan 5(4)-0
Belfast featherweight Conlan has been on a huge upward trajectory since ditching the vest and debuting at MSG Theater on St. Patrick’s Day with the third-round stoppage of Tim Ibarra.
The 2015 amateur world champion his been displaying his skills to a huge audience across the world thanks to his promoters Top Rank, with a headline appearance in Boston followed by a prominent position on the Pac vs Horn card at the Suncorp Stadium. Brisbane, in front of 50,000 spectators.
Although Conlan insisted “pressure was for tyres” in the lead-up to his debut, even the coolest of characters would have struggled with some pre-fight jitters, but as his pro career has progressed, each fight he has shown a little bit more patience and composure in his work, culminating in his latest display on the Loma vd Rigo undercard where he was chief-support, boxing in southpaw for five-rounds, wasting nothing and peppering the body and head with hurtful shots.
I believe we have far from seen the best from Conlan, and I'm massively excited to see him stepped up in 2018, and hopefully pushing for a title of some sort this time next year.
KO of the Year:
Darragh Foley KO6 vs Sonny Katiandagho
The 'Dubliner Down Under' Darragh Foley took to the ring for the second defence of his WBA Oceania light-welterweight title at the Doltone House, New South Wales, Australia on 8 April and came from behind on the judges' scorecards to spectacularly knock-out slick Filipino Sonny Katiandagho, who came into the bout with an impressive record of 11(6)-1 which had seen him pick up the WBC Youth & WBC Eurasia Pacific titles along the way.
When the action got started it was the southpaw Foley who landed the first telling shot of the bout, a crisp straight left-hand finding its way through the guard of Katiandagho and on to the chin, momentarily staggering the Filipino.
Throughout the opening rounds, the clash of styles and differences in stance led to numerous clashes of heads, which started to show on Foley's face where a small cut appearing above the left eye as well as some swelling on the cheek bones.
Into the fifth and Katiandagho started to pick up the pace, putting his punches together the effect of which were beginning to show on the swollen face of Foley who was struggling to get his shots off.
Coming out for the sixth round, and clearly behind on the judges' scorecards with the tide starting to turn in the Filipino's favour, it was clear that Foley had to pull something out of the bag - and soon, as his left eye had begun to completely close over.
This forced a change in tactic and stance from Foley as he came out and boxed orthodox for the first time during the bout, and the switch paid off for the Irishman massively as he threw a check left hook to grab Katiandagho's attention before a huge right hand down the middle sent the Filipino crashing to the canvas.
Referee Les Fear immediately waved the bout off and a jubilant Foley climbed the ropes to salute his travelling supporters whilst the game Katiandagho remained on the canvas sat upright for another minute or so trying to regain his senses.
At the time of the stoppage Katiandagho was ahead 50-46, 49-46, whilst one card had it at 48-48.
Warrior of the Year:
Jay Byrne 6(3)-2(1)
Dublin's Jay Byrne, took a road many would have turned their back on so early in their professional career, opting to fight on the road for a period of fights in arenas around the UK, against top prospects. However the year started for Byrne at the Europa Hotel, as he returned to Belfast and an MHD card for the second time in his short career and had to battle through some adversity to extend his unbeaten record to 3-0 against tough Hungarian opponent Sandor Jozsa (now 3-2-1).
After a frantic opening round, which saw both boxers shift some big shots, Byrne injured his left shoulder in the second, and was also buzzed from a big left hand from Jozsa. The third was a back and forth war with Byrne pulling away towards the end of the stanza. In the final round 'The Negotiator' resorted to single shots to comfortably see out the bout, and was rewarded with the win by 40-36 on judge Hugh Russell Jr's scorecard.
Speaking with irish-boxing.com afterwards, the 30-year old explained: "It was my own fault, I missed a pad and I overextended. Tommy [McCormack] rubbed it out, iced it, the whole lot, and I felt alright getting into the ring, it felt loose. But when that went, I panicked, and I was using just the right arm for a lot of it, and then at the end my right arm just went. it wasn’t sore or anything, I was just overusing it, it was just bollocked!"
Thankfully for Jay and his support, the damage wasn't deemed too bad and he was still able to enter the ring on 25 February as he fought for the second time inside three-weeks, this time at the National Stadium, with the Dubliner stepping up to six rounds for the first time in his career as he took on tough journeyman Sergio Abad.
The Spaniard fought in the National Stadium in November and gave Gerard Whitehouse a tough fight, and from the off he proved a handful for Byrne, pinning him to the ropes and attacking the body before landing a nice right hook to the head. Throughout the opening two rounds Abad continued to march forward landing some telling shots.
'The Negotiator' burst into action at the start of the third and started letting his hands go. In the fourth Abad landed a powerful right hand that momentarily stiffened the legs of Byrne, but he recovered well and landed some hurtful blows of his own towards the end of the stanza. However, Abad was giving him a tough night's work as expected.
In the final two rounds both fighters were visibly tiring, Byrne was boxing behind the jab trying to keep the advancing Abad away, but the Spaniard continued to come forward looking to land some big shots of his own. At the end of the bout the judge's scorecard read 58-57 in favour of The Negotiator, who will be happy to have picked up the win in what was a testing and gruelling contest.
Speaking to irish-boxing.com after the fight, Byrne said: "I thought the first round was very close, he could have got it. I thought second, third, fourth I controlled fairly handily. Fifth was more of the same, then in the sixth the lads said to me ‘don’t even box him, stay away from him, throw out your jab, make him think.’ I think I was a complete professional, I felt more comfortable as the fight went on, I was making him miss a lot more."
The 30 year-old welterweight also hinted he was close to securing a major contest: "We may have something big in the next three weeks, we’re in talks. If that happens, it will be very big."
And big it was, as The Negotiator stepped up two weight divisions to take on Matchroom prospect and former English elite amateur Felix Cash over four rounds.
Byrne was on the receiving end of a massive gulf in size, but nonetheless put on a stellar performance, giving the Englishman the toughest test of his career so far, and as a result of his excellent showing, bagged himself a massive bout on another future Matchroom show.
“In life you sometimes have to take one step backwards to take two forwards, which is what I have done,” Byrne [4(1)-1(0)] told Irish-Boxing.com following the York Hall loss. Matchroom went to Tommy McCormack [co-trainer] before we left to get his details as they said they wanted me back. They said that there are big fights for me at welter and light middle, there was even mention of the Joshua-Klitschko card.
“Eddie Hearn met me getting out of the ring to say well done and that he was very, very impressed. He also said he would love me back at my proper weight and that I had some balls.” I was also approached by James DeGale, Dillian Whyte and many others to say well done and that I was a tough motherf*cker.
"After the first couple of rounds I really enjoyed it. I was nervous of the size difference and whether I’d be OK with the power difference, but I had fun in there. I was laughing at him at one point and called him on. He wasn’t hurting me and I wanted to entertain.”
Just four-weeks later and up two weights again, the Loughlinstown man would introduce 2016 Rio Olympian Josh Kelly to the pro game over six rounds on the Ricky Burns v Julius Indongo unification world title bout in the SSE Hydro, Glasgow, Scotland, and again put on a valiant display to take the impressive Kelly through the motions before going down 59-55 on the referee's scorecard.
Byrne is clearly a proud man and was by no means taking these fights against top amateurs with a doubt in his head that he could lose. He came to win and upset the applecart but unfortunately just came up short against two better fighters. The first two losses of Jay's career momentarily had him considering his future career as professional boxer, but thankfully he changed his mind, and posted the following message on Facebook a couple of days after his fight:
"Back to the drawing board anyways, few changed to be made, I need to work on a lot of stuff. I don't want the name for being this 'warrior'! [My] Heart, chin and fitness are great , but I need the hands on a level par with them, and after a good bit of thought, I will certainly NOT be walking away from the sport! I will be working ten times harder on my technical game, and the next time I'm in the ring, [the] differences will be seen."
Jay wouldn't have to wait to long to try remove the memory of his first losses in the paid ranks, as he took to the ring on 27 May as Leonard Gunning (Boxing Ireland) and Tony Davitt Promotions hosted 'Celtic Clash 2' at the National Stadium in Dublin, and with Matchroom announcing that they would return to Belfast on 10 June for Ryan Burnett's challenge for Lee Haskins' IBF world title, Byrne looked to be in a good position to feature on that card, hopefully this time in the home corner.
A local rivalry had been bubbling between Byrne and undefeated Dublin welterweight Gerard 'Crank' Whitehouse, and the pair were originally rumoured to be fighting on the 'Celtic Clash 2' card, but the fight fell through and Byrne instead took to the ring against Daniel Przewieslik of Poland, outpointing the tough journeyman to improve his record to 5(1)-2(0).
The 30-year-old Byrne openly admitted that he "had some personal stuff" going on in his life in the lead-up to this bout which had restricted his training, and told irish-boxing.com afterwards: “I said it in the interviews leading up to it, it was probably the worst six weeks of my life. I had some personal stuff, so I wasn’t training and I hadn’t been in the gym. I done nothing for this fight.”
On the fight itself, Byrne stated: “I hurt this lad one or two times but I hadn’t got it in me to step it up. I got caught a few times too. I was tired after two rounds and you know that’s not me. You saw me in England against top opposition and doing the rounds wasn’t a problem. I was constantly going forward in those and I couldn’t do it tonight. After it all I am delighted with the win. I wasn’t near my best and I got a win over a good enough guy.”
Byrne once again took a step up in class, and weight, on 30 September at the Liverpool Echo Arena, as he went four rounds with Liverpudlian 2016 Olympian, and World amateur medallist Anthony Fowler before being stopped for the first time in his career, seeing his record slip to 5(1)-3(1).
Next up for Byrne, was the highly-anticipated local derby against undefeated Crank Whitehouse for the BUI Celtic welterweight title.
Going into the bout, the bookmakers had Whitehouse as the slight favourite, but 'The Negotiator' had been learning his trade on the road against top opponents at higher weights, and was feeling very confident at his natural weight of 147.
After a close opening couple of rounds with the flashier stuff coming from Whitehouse and the telling power-shots coming from Byrne, it was the pressure and power of Byrne that began to take its toll on Whitehouse. At the beginning of the fourth, a huge right-hand from Byrne landed flush on the chin of Whitehouse, stunning the undefeated 22 year-old. Another soon followed as Byrne went for the kill, loading up with the right hand.
It had looked like Crank might survive the round, but with less than twenty-seconds left, Whitehouse went to throw a left-hook but was caught by Byrne with a powerful straight right hand that sent him to the canvas. Whitehouse unsteadily rose to his feet and the bout was waved off at 2.55 seconds of round four.
After a career best win, Byrne improved his record to 6(2)-3(1), and ended the seven-fight year as the BUI Celtic welterweight champion, quite an accomplishment. We look forward to seeing more of The Negotiator in 2018, and possibly pushing towards an Irish title.
The Irish Eye would like to thank all our readers for your support, and wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year.